I’ve been following the news of the ‘Frankenfish’ – the genetically modified salmon that folks are trying to get approval to distribute, with a lot of interest. The name ‘Frankenfish’ is presumably based on the cult horror movie of the same name, which dealt with genetically modified snakehead fish (if you rent it, you’ll get to see some people kissing in the bayou, covered in fish blood and guts. Thanks Smithee Awards!). Of course, Frankenstein wasn’t genetically modified, he was brought back from the dead. Maybe some sort of X-men name would have worked better. X-fish? Professor Fish? Or even an evil aquatic character from another series – Mer-Mon? Dr. StrangeFish (based on the villain from the Snorks – Dr. Strangesnork) perhaps?
Regardless, Frankenfish was a catchy name, and it reflects the feelings of many Americans about the dangers of a genetically modified fish – it may seem benign right now, but the second you stop playing your violin, it could go berserk. And while it might not intend you harm, it could cause disaster nonetheless. We’ve been well trained to appreciate the danger of invasive fish species, it is easy to see why a genetically modified species would also cause concern.
But here’s what I find so interesting, and don’t understand. Americans have been eating genetically modified corn and soybeans for YEARS, with minimal concern (some people are concerned, but they are a vocal minority in the USA). But the second we have a genetically modified animal, it’s a totally different ballgame. Is it just a case of better publicity and a catchy nickname? Or does this reflect some cultural conception of what is ‘natural’ to Americans? Is the fact that a fish can move around the reason it bothers more people than corn? If you think there’s a danger of them escaping into the wild, you should know that genetically modified canola plants are found all along the highway shoulders in North Dakota – genetically modified plants escape too. Is it because we can SEE a physical difference in the fish, thanks to the genes they have modified? Or perhaps it is because we tend to eat fish as a food, and corn and soybeans are more often ingredients in another food? I suspect we have a tendency to see plants as part of the background, and animals as part of our active, lived space. But that’s pure speculation.
I’m not saying people should or should not be concerned about GMOs – I have mixed feelings about them myself. However I do think that people should either be concerned about ALL GMOs or NO GMOs. The genetically modified corn and soybeans are in virtually every boxed food you buy at the store, so before you get into an uproar about ‘Frankenfish’ take a look at what is already on your shelves. If you are content with the genetically modified corn and soybeans in those boxes, ask yourself what is so disconcerting about the genetically modified salmon. You might learn something about how you view the world, and how the media helps to get us in an uproar sometimes. Or else you might throw out the boxes.